Stellar: Creating public infrastructure for money

August 11, 2015 | Tech Nonprofits

Stellar: Creating public infrastructure for money

This is the third post in a weekly series covering each of Fast Forward’s nine tech nonprofits.

We take it for granted: credit cards, online bill payment, savings accounts, mortgages, or sending a check to a friend. Two billion unbanked people, however, have nowhere to store their cash except under their proverbial mattresses, and sending money to friends and family domestically or across borders can be exorbitantly expensive in this $436 billion industry.

Stellar wants to change all that. Stellar is building an open-source  protocol for payments (similar to how Internet Protocol laid the groundwork for the internet). The Stellar protocol can lower the costs of sending money to a couple cents on the dollar, regardless of the currency of the sender and recipient, and as potential for wide ranging application that will revolutionize the way the world manages money – particularly those in the developing world earning less than $2 a day.

We talked with Joyce Kim and Jessica Collier to understand their motivations and challenges.

Why Stellar?

Joyce: In order of importance, people tend to think that financial access comes after things like education and healthcare, but financial access is actually a pre-condition for everything else. One big problem in the financial infrastructure today is that it’s terribly expensive to move money from one country to another, and Stellar can remove these costs. Stellar can help people receive or spend or save money, which helps them also pay for their education and healthcare.

What’s has been the biggest challenge for Stellar?

Joyce: Storytelling. Stellar is technical back-end infrastructure for the world, and very few people in the nonprofit, government, or even tech world understand this level of technology – it’s hard to explain to someone how the internet works, and that’s just the starting point for understanding Stellar’s technology.

Why a nonprofit?

Joyce: Stellar has to be a nonprofit. Public infrastructure has to be free. Imagine what would have happened to the internet if it had been built by a company trying to make a profit instead of as an open protocol.

Tell us more about the international focus of Stellar.

Joyce: Most of the world has underdeveloped banking infrastructure. People have not been able to participate in the financial world before, as banks have limited reach in the developing world for a number of reasons, but Stellar is democratizing finance.

Jessica: People in different countries manage money completely differently and have different cultural relationships with money, so we want to enable people to design their own financial product solutions at the local level.

I’d infuse the tech world with…

Jessica: Altruism. You can use tech strategies – small failures, iteration, problem solving – toward an altruistic ambition. The technology industry and nonprofit sector can have a positive impact when we learn to speak each other’s languages. Tech folks know products and how to scale, while nonprofits understand human needs.